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Jack Lynch, Editor
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Note: Commentary and viewpoints on this website are the sole opinions of the writers and do not represent in any way any organizations of which they may belong, promote, or by which they are employed.
November 3, 2010
The Tragedy of Kai Hagen
At the apex of the battle, Shakespeare’s Richard III cries out, “A horse! A horse! My kingdom…for a horse!” Not unlike our own Kai Hagen, wunderkind of environment causes, one man waste management leader, having ridden the moderate coattails of Jan Gardner to office – and now deposed king of forty acres of mountaintop near Thurmont.
In a way he returns to his place prior to running for office, unemployed and activist, but without the one trick pony of a mock advocacy organization that was never more than a couple hundred names and raised no more than $5,000 in eighteen months. Not to say that compared to most other local efforts, he was not a powerhouse to be admired in his act of self creation.
That of course came about after his famous meltdown with the nascent Friends of Frederick County where his assistance in bringing together a good group of like minded folks to form a board and organization, fell victim to his interest in defining a job for himself as its executive with a salary.
He in fact nearly destroyed the group before it formed, as several early board members quit in disgust at his actions, long pleading phone calls, chiding emails, attempts to rally support and inspire faith in contracting him to a position and salary.
Long before he ran for office, I sat on his steps and suggested he might be thinking forward to running in the county – he professed uncertainty at that point, saying his personal and family situation were too open to criticism, his causes too liberal. Yet he had a sincere and deep commitment to bringing more progressive legislation to protect our waterways and water supply, to recycling as a lifestyle, and to protecting open space and farmland.
As an outsider with a support base of activated folks from two organizations and a bipartisan slate on growth issues, Hagen became the golden boy, he had a position to run as a different sort of candidate, which some last liken back to Ron Sundergill in the county. Hagen was symbolic of new thinking that had never had a focal person to deliver elective results. The enviro-liberal crowd finally had somewhere to go that was not a mere leftover or compromise on their way of thinking.
Progressive folks lived with Kai once elected because they had no other resource, but any liberal candidacy is a stretch in Frederick County, and must constantly compromise and burnish whatever moderate credentials it can muster, Kai did not do so. His union boy in the City of Frederick election, Jason Judd, proved a total dud for much the same reasons, and even failed to stand up for the issue of opposing the impacts of the northern annexations.
This is all part of a much larger problem for the local Democratic party, and its lightweight apparatus, and its failure to engage a progressive business community and to raise funds. Many who hope for a partisan strength have been disappointed for a long time, and have held back from engaging in a campaign against the folks whose volunteer election to party offices have yielded little for all their good intentions and lack of effort or success.
A second early warning sign on Hagen came during his campaign when he established a bit of a personal relationship with a local land use attorney and confessed he was engaging with others, not that an accommodation with those interests was unwarranted or unnecessary as an officeholder, but because that initiated a long horrendous process of developing the DRRA for Lake Linganore development, as assault on the commitment to the revision of the New Market Regional Plan, and about fifty hours of tortuous meetings of a committee that drafted a development proposal outside the discussion of the rest of the board.
While it was easy to see Hagen’s failure in the waste sphere, the blind adherence to absolute concepts on waste that were unworkable in current practice, the faith in magical solutions, the failure to engage on real compromises such as landfill needs – all portended ultimate doom. Even the ace card of cost was misplayed, and the advocates failed to make the case. If he had limited his blind allegiance to extremes, he might’ve been able to deal a better hand, on outcomes, site location, etc., etc., etcetera. Instead, he loses all.
It was said to be Hagen’s idea to launch a development freeze while revising the Comprehensive Plan and zoning regulations, and that was really the point at which the knives came out for the Gardner board with the development and business money – even supporters like myself were stunned by the announcement and the shock wave went through the hearing room, which after a moment of silence, descended in murmurs of revenge and ouster. For the old powers of the county, they had gone too far!
What does the future hold for Democrats and liberals in Frederick County, it can be an eventual resurgence, but it can only come from a more moderate and common man stance. There was much good in the causes, but the perversion of purpose to demagoguery and perception of obstructionism have yielded this bitter fruit, for Hagen, and for us all. There remains little to feel sorry for, little to preserve or recover in the man himself, but a lesson to be learned by any future liberal voice in county affairs.
Today our concern and efforts must be placed in holding in place the progressive policy and regulations that defined the outgoing board, while our retrenched county deals with the weight of the limping economy, and we look for leadership that brings us back together and finds a middle ground, using common sense and remains flexible along with its good intent.
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